“The Ashes” – England v Australia cricket contest begins on July 8th

“The Ashes” is one of the oldest ongoing sporting events in the calendar and is a name recognised globally, but few know the rather quaint back story behind it:

“Immediately after Australia’s 1882 victory at the Oval, their first win on English soil since the two teams began playing ‘international’ cricket five years earlier, the Sporting Times published a satirical obituary bemoaning the fact that “English cricket had died, so the body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia.”

The mythical ashes immediately became associated with the 1882-83 series of matches played in Australia, before which the English captain vowed to “regain those ashes”. The English media therefore dubbed the tour “the quest to regain the Ashes”.

After England won two of that tour’s three tests a small urn was presented to the England team’s captain by a group of Australian women, one of whom the captain eventually married! Allegedly this tiny urn contained the ashes of a wooden cricket bail – “the ashes of Australian cricket”.

It’s certainly one of the tiniest trophies to be held in such esteem. A touch of Australian irony perhaps…

Cricket, of course, has always been a ‘gentlemen’s’ sport, played by gentry on the village pitch in their bountiful free time with, perhaps, the addition of the local blacksmith to bat on special occasions – like giving the village team from down the road a good hiding? Not a bit like football where the players feign injury for advantage, or rugby where the occasional ear gets eaten!

Yet, reading the hype in the media there is a great deal of mutual aggression between the opposing teams, much of it being stoked by commentators who are predominantly ex-Ashes test players themselves. It seems that unless you are actually playing in a Test match, at mid-off or closer, you miss out on all of the nasty things that they’re saying to each other on the square under the mischievous title of ‘sledging’.

Televised football shows us players kicking each other and the occasional forearm smash from every conceivable angle, but is dominated by displays of play-acting, rugby has a scrum in which to hide while snacking on the opposition, but in cricket they have to resort to verbal abuse, because they never get close enough to each other for the truth to leak out

The Australians and the English share a common language, and not much love for each other, so one imagines that it must be an interesting conversation that takes place in that square over the course of the forty hours of a five day test match?

It seems such a shame that we, the audience, are restricted to the sight of balls being hit or missed every now and then, the scoreboard, or men running after said ball. Under these circumstances, cricket should attract a similar sized audience to a chess match, but the Ashes is somehow much more important than a cricket match to both the Australians and the English…

Imagine when it comes with sound effects too… !

About Richard Lawson

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